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Congressional lawmakers split on police accountability and reform
Competing bills take different approaches
 
Published Wednesday, June 24, 2020 7:47 am
by Herbert L. White | The Charlotte Post

CHARLOTTE-MECKLENBURG POLICE
A screengrab from video provided by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police shows the fatal confrontation between CMPD Officer Wende Kerl and Danquirs Franklin, who was unarmed, at a fast food restaurant on Beatties Ford Road on March 25, 2019. Kerl, who shot and killed Franklin, wasn’t prosecuted. Two competing bills before Congress take different approaches to police reform and accountability in the wake of protests over use of force against Black civilians.

Congress is split over police accountability in how it approaches use of force against civilians.


Democrats are backing the Justice in Policing Act, which they say mandates comprehensive reforms by banning practices like chokeholds and racial profiling while holding law enforcement accountable for overzealous violence against civilians. Black activists have long criticized police officers for targeting African Americans for extrajudicial tactics, which has taken on renewed urgency with a string of high-profile killings that have sparked national protests.


The partisan split extends to Carolinas lawmakers.


“Congress must take urgent action to address the epidemic of police brutality against Americans. This bill does that and acknowledges that Black lives can’t wait until the next election,” Rep. Alma Adams, a Charlotte Democrat, said earlier this month. “By passing the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, we can begin the process of rebuilding the fragile trust in our justice system. Urgency and progress are the antidote to injustice.”


Senate Republicans crafted their own bill, the Just and Unifying Solutions to Invigorate Communities Everywhere, or JUSTICE Act crafted by Tim Scott of South Carolina and co-sponsored by North Carolina’s Thom Tillis, which backers say focuses on reform, accountability, and transparency. Senate Republicans say the bill will promote solutions to systemic issues affecting people of color such as education and health disparities.


“Now is the time for reform,” Scott said. “The murder of George Floyd and its aftermath made clear from sea to shining sea that action must be taken to rebuild lost trust between communities of color and law enforcement. The JUSTICE Act takes smart, commonsense steps to address these issues, from ending the use of chokeholds and increasing the use of body worn cameras, to providing more resources for police departments to better train officers and make stronger hiring decisions.”


The bills have similarities, but the Justice in Policing Act would ban racial, religious and discriminatory profiling, and mandates training on racial, religious, and discriminatory profiling for all law enforcement. It also prohibits bans chokeholds, carotid holds and no-knock warrants at the federal level and limits the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement.


“It is time for Congress to come together to address injustices in our criminal justice system and work together to improve the relationship between communities and law enforcement,” Tillis said. “The vast majority of law enforcement officials in North Carolina and across the country were also sickened by the murder of George Floyd, and they need to be a critical part of the solution.”


The JUSTICE Act would:

• Reform training methods and tactics including de-escalation of force and duty to intervene by providing incentives to new funding and end utilization of chokeholds  as well as provide more resources to ensure the makeup of police departments more closely matches the communities they serve. The bill would also open access to potential officer candidates’ disciplinary records from other jurisdictions, add more body-worn cameras for officers and require departments are using equipment and storing data properly.


• Require a report establishing best practices for hiring, firing, suspensions, and discipline of law enforcement officers as well as full reporting to the FBI after any incident in which an officer fires a weapon or uses force to subdue a suspect. Currently, only about 40% of the nation’s police departments do so.


• Collect data as to when, where and why no-knock warrants are used  


• Make lynching a federal crime


• Creates two commissions to study and offer solutions to challenges facing black men and boys, and the criminal justice system as a whole


Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) criticized the Republicans’ bill as too lenient on accountability.


“Black people want to stop being killed and Americans from all walks of life are demanding change,” she said. “We must meet this movement by holding police accountable for misconduct. …We should have a national standard for use of force – the Republican bill fails to adopt one. This [Democratic bill] could have saved George Floyd’s life. We should have a national ban on no-knock warrants in drug cases – the Republican bill fails to address this. This could have saved Breonna Taylor’s life. The families who have lost loved ones at the hands of police should be able to hold police officers accountable in court – the Republican bill fails to address this.”


The Justice in Policing Act would:


• Ban racial, religious and discriminatory profiling, and mandates training on racial, religious, and discriminatory profiling for all law enforcement. It also prohibits bans chokeholds, carotid holds and no-knock warrants at the federal level and limits the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law police.


• Mandate use of dashboard cameras and body cameras for federal offices and requires state and local law enforcement to use existing federal funds to ensure the use of body cams.

• Establish a national misconduct registry to prohibit officers who are fired or leave one department from moving to another without accountability and amends the federal criminal statute from a “willfulness” to “recklessness” standard to identify and prosecute misconduct.


• Reform qualified immunity so that victims of police misconduct can recover damages.


• Establish public safety innovation grants for community-based organizations to create local commissions and task forces and requires creation of accreditation standard recommendations based on the Task Force on 21st Century policing established by the Obama administration.


“The Black community is tired of the lip service and is shocked that this $7 billion [Senate] package can be thought of as legislation,” said civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who represents the family of George Floyd, who was killed last month by a Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer who kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes. “We all know that as the act is written, it is in direct contrast to the demands of the people, who have taken to the streets, to call for the reallocation of resources in order to improve social safety nets and public mental health programs.”

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